Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils posted their schedule for Theme Nights and giveaways for the upcoming 2023-24 season. It looks like it is a bit scaled back from last year but there is one huge return: the Devils Ring of Honor.
Way back on January 7, 2017, the organization started one as they honored the original owner, Dr. John McMullen, as the inaugural member. A fitting choice as he was the one responsible for bringing the team to New Jersey in the first place. It was a nice ceremony. The Devils proceeded to fill their pants in a 2-4 loss to Toronto. Then nothing. Nothing was added to the Ring of Honor for years. It was not until March of this year - six years later - where the idea floated that it could return. It is now going to be a thing once more on January 20, 2024 when they play Dallas.
This will naturally bring up the question: Who should be the second member? Someone like Sergei Brylin, who has been a loyal Devil since joining the team as a player and remains as a coach to this day? Someone like Lou, who has turned the team into the Devils and built the teams that have achieved five Stanley Cup Finals appearances and three Cups? Someone dear to the organization more for off the ice than on it, such as Doc Emrick or Chico? The team is playing the Stars that night, so could it even be Jamie Langenbrunner - who is also being inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame? The possibilities are many. The choice will be one. Hopefully, it will not be another seven years before the third entry.
I will say upfront that I am very pleased that the Devils are doing something with it. Starting one and then sitting on it with just one entrant does not make much sense. It is not much of a ring with just one person, even if that person was crucial to the current organization.
As for the other Theme Nights and giveaways, there are no real surprise additions. Some removals compared with last year, if I recall correctly. Before I get into that, I will point out this bit from the announcement as a bit of an issue that I have with the Devils over these kinds of promotions:
There will be several group nights throughout the season including First Responders Night, Teachers Appreciation Night, ASL Night, Nurses Night and more. There will also be a holiday-themed game during the month of December.
Some of these are not new, but I will remain baffled that the Devils acknowledge they do this but do nothing with it. Nothing. Per the team’s website, a group event requires a 10 ticket minimum. While I would like to think it would take a lot more to warrant inclusion as a Group Night, why not put a threshold for getting mentioned on the team’s schedule or site as a group night? This way the group has another incentive to get more tickets and, more importantly, other people hear about this. Maybe it convinces a few more people to go to the game that they otherwise would not want to. It would be better than leaving the People Who Matter to go to the Rock, see that it is, say, Teacher Appreciation Night, and raise an eyebrow and wonder why they were not told about it. Especially if they are a teacher. It is hard and expensive enough to build awareness in this market. I do not get why the Devils do these things that make it harder for themselves from a business and marketing perspective.
One more thing of note about the Theme Nights this year. In the past, the Devils would wear special warm-up jerseys for some of these events. They would often be auctioned off for charity as well as lead to some merchandise of the logo or design of the event. Some of the ones they did last season were well done, such as the Lunar New Year warm-up jerseys. Others, like the super-busy Gender Equality logo, not so much. But to each their own. Regardless of your opinion of it, it was also a way for the Devils to reach out to the artist community and have them add something based on the theme. Usually with a far better result than a super-lazy third Jersey design.
Regrettably, that will not continue into this season. Last season, Our Hated Rivals pulled the rug out of wearing Pride Night warm-up jerseys back in January. It was a late decision - and it led to a cascading effect across the league. Some players refused to wear them too, which somehow got more attention than the entire New York Rangers deciding to not do it at the last second. In the weeks to follow, Chicago backed out and the Minnesota Wild decided to not do it in March. Despite teams and players wearing them for years along with other special warm-up jerseys, the NHL Board of Governors decided in their June meeting to kill the idea of special warm-up jerseys for any special cause in 2023-24. This was decided by the organizations, not the union; so my ire is for the teams here. Sorry, Hockey Fights Cancer, you may get less money this year because Jimmy D and/or someone(s) in his organization does not like rainbows. I think this is stupid. I think the Rangers and Wild are cowards and should be mocked for this. I will continue to do so, at least. I hope the NHL reverses course for 2024-25.
So, no, none of the jerseys or merch coming out of these upcoming Theme Nights will be on the backs or chests of The Big Deal, Nico Hischier, Nathan Bastian, Timo Meier, and so forth. I do not get why the NHL Board of Governors do these things that make it harder for themselves from a business and public perspective.
Anyway, those rants and the Ring of Honor aside, here are the 2023-24 Theme Nights per their ticket page. The announcement left out a couple for some reason. So I will use their ticket page to include them.
- Thursday, October 12, 2023 - Home Opener vs. Detroit - Everyone’s getting a poster! Also, the team is doing the Red Carpet Arrivals of the players at 4 PM and will have a Fan Fest, presumably at Championship Plaza, before the game. Weather permitting, of course.
- Wednesday, October 25, 2023 - Hispanic Heritage Night vs. Washington - This is called a “Hockey is for Everyone” game on the Theme Night, so I suppose these Heritage Nights will be labeled as such. Which makes sense. They did this last year against Colorado, if I recall correctly. This may get a little more attention than you may think as this game will be on TNT.
- Sunday, October 29, 2023 - Devils vs. Minnesota - This game will have two theme nights! Given that Halloween is two days away, Mascot Madness makes some sense. They did this last year on October 22; I think it is more appropriate to have it right before Halloween. Expect to see NJ Devil do things with other, inferior mascots. The first 9,000 people will get a NJ Devil bobblehead. Given how loaded ownership is, why not make the threshold 12,000 or something? The team is good now, I doubt it will be a challenge to get people into the Rock early for a 5 PM game. That is one night. The other Ukrainian Heritage Night. If you’re buying tickets through an offer on the site, the first 200 will get a special t-shirt. Interesting choice for a heritage night. It should be at the next game and not this one, but hey. Lastly: this was not in the team’s announcement but is on the ticket page. I find it to be interesting at least.
- Friday, November 10, 2023 - Military Appreciation Night vs. Washington - The military appreciation returns for another year. The first 9,000 people will get a camouflage bucket hat, presumably with a Devils logo. Do people wear bucket hats anymore? Is the Gilligan look going to make a comeback? More importantly, why can’t this night also be Ukrainian Heritage Night? What would Alex do about it? Score another career milestone goal in a loss to New Jersey?
- Saturday, November 25, 2023 - Hockey Fights Cancer vs. Buffalo - The Devils have held their Hockey Fights Cancer nights around Thanksgiving, so this tracks. This continues for another year. A great way to raise some money for this cause would be to sell some player-worn warm-up jerseys. Too bad the rest of the Board of Governors decided to listen to the presumed fears of James Dolan, Craig Leipold, and the Wirtz family.
- Sunday, December 17, 2023 - Jewish Community Night vs. Anaheim - This was not in the team’s announcement for some reason. Per the site, it’s the 9th annual such night but this was not always so promoted. It was not announced as a Theme Night last year, if I recall correctly. Anyway, this is similar to Ukrainian Heritage Night in that there is an offer to buy tickets through where each ticket buyer will get a t-shirt. It is not limited to 200 people, though. And there will be a game-used hockey stick menorah. And the Maccabeats.
- Thursday, December 21. 2023 - Pride Night vs. Edmonton - Good for the Devils to continue to do these despite them not drawing like the other Theme Nights. Bad that there will not be a warm-up jersey because Rangers were scared out of it last year. Alas. It should be a good game; far better than the Devils-Boston game it was last year. I am going to guess this is the second Hockey is for Everyone game because of the next entry.
- Saturday, January 6, 2024 - Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Night vs. Vancouver - This appears to be new - and the third Hockey is for Everyone game listed. There was not one such announced day last year. But that is not the real draw of the game. It’s the Hughes Bowl! The Big Deal vs. Captain Quinn. Luke vs. the rest of Vancouver. It should be a notable game.
- Saturday, January 20, 2024 - Ring of Honor vs. Dallas - As covered at the top. After four Theme Nights, this game will get a giveaway. Everyone attending will get a Ring of Honor pin. I will guess that this pin will relate to whoever goes up in the Ring of Honor. As ever, I could be wrong.
- Tuesday, February 6, 2024 - Black History Celebration vs. Colorado - This is it what it was called last year. Another giveaway for this one. This goes back to the first 9,000 threshold. They will get a mini helmet.
- Saturday, February 17, 2024 - Stadium Series vs. Philadelphia - Hey! This is not a Theme Night! This is a showcase game! At MetLife Stadium! On national television! Cute that the Devils put that on this page. No, there is no date as to when they will start selling tickets.
- Saturday, February 24, 2024 - Next Generation Weekend Pt. 1 vs. Montreal - Rather than Youth Hockey Day or just Hockey Weekend Across America, they are going with this name. Sure. Anyway, Little Devils members will take over certain game day roles. I expect some impressive kid drawings of players to be on the big screen. And if you’re among the first 9,000 fans, you will get a Dawson Mercer bobblehead. Mercer is getting the bobblehead treatment. You love to see it. Provided you’re one of the first 9,000. Or look to buy one second-handed online. Whichever.
- Sunday, February 25, 2024 - Next Generation Weekend Pt. 2 vs. Tampa Bay - Same as the Montreal game but a different opponent and a different bobblehead giveaway. The first 9,000 will get a Jesper Bratt bobblehead.
- Tuesday, March 5, 2024 - Gender Equality Night vs. Florida - This is, I think, the fifth Hockey is for Everyone night. Of note, the 2024 NJSIAA Girls High School Ice Hockey State Champions will be recognized before the game.
- Saturday, March 9, 2024 - Video Game Day vs. Carolina - This is the only non-heritage or cause theme of the season outside of the first and last games. It is about video games. I can dig it. Two things of note for this game. One: The first 9,000 fans to arrive will get some video game themed socks. Yes, socks. Two: NJ Devil will play a fan in NHL24 on the scoreboard during the second intermission.
- Monday, April 15, 2024 - Jersey Appreciation Night vs. New York Islanders - This is basically Fan Appreciation Night. I am not sure why the change to this, but that is OK. There is a giveaway. The first 9,000 fans will get a Timo Meier bobblehead. Given that the bobbleheads include two long-term signed Devils and the mascot, I wonder if this is a sign that Mercer is set to get a long-term deal. (Also: No Hughes, Hamilton, or Hischier bobbleheads. Hmm.) There will also be a “Jersey off our Backs” post-game in what I hope is not the final game of New Jersey Devils hockey in Spring 2024.
The Theme Night list is heavy on the first half of the season. This is common in this neck of the woods. Football dominates the sports landscape here. As such, more incentives lean to bring people in during the season. Now that the Devils are a better hockey team than they were in most of the last few years, they may not need so many once the NFL season concludes in this neck of the woods. There is also a mix of opponents, including some less box-office favorable matchups (e.g. Anaheim, Minnesota, Edmonton) and more favorable ones (e.g. Washington, Islanders, Montreal). It is not as if these were all games set to do bad business at the gate without the promotion.
It is a smaller slate compared to last season. As you would expect, you cannot celebrate 40 years of Ken Daneyko for a second straight season. And 2023-24 is a non-standard anniversary of a championship team. Some seem to have just been cut. Star Wars Night is gone. Marvel Super Heroes Night is gone. Lunar New Year was strangely left out. While the Devils are playing in Carolina on Saturday, February 10, but it could be observed on February 8 when they host Calgary or February 12 when they host Seattle. There is no special listing for St. Patrick’s Day; but that happens during a Devils road trip. That omission is a little more understandable. Autism Acceptance Night also out. Maybe that has been relegated to group status? Still, that is seven Theme Nights off the books. Although the gap is closer if you add in the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage, Ukrainian, and Jewish Community nights, the Ring of Honor Night, the Video Game Day, and the Next Generation Weekend being a two-day thing. No, I am not counting the Stadium Series game here. Does this make sense for the Devils? We shall see when the nights happen and the gates are recorded.
At the very least, the Ring of Honor will not be forgotten for another season at the Rock.
What do you make of this upcoming season’s Theme Night slate of games? Are you pleased with what is coming back? Do you think the Devils should do more giveaways? Or at least raise the threshold of the first 9,000 fans? Who do you want added to the Ring of Honor? Please leave your